A History of Japan, 1582-1941: Internal and External Worlds

By L. M. Cullen | Go to book overview

6
Sakoku under pressure: the gaiatsu
of the 1850s and 1860s

Threats to sakoku had in the past been posed by individual ships. Perry in 1853 bore the first communication from a western government in forty—nine years; more disturbingly it was delivered by a fleet of four warships, and an even larger American fleet came a year later. What the Japanese feared (and expected, as the Dutch had kept them informed of American plans) had occurred. Emphasis on consultation in Edo policy was reinforced. In the wake of Perry's first visit, Abe Masahiro (1819–57) wrote to the daimyo, inviting them 'to express your opinions freely without reservation, for even if they are disagreeable, no offence will be taken'. 1 This reflected less weakness than an underlying strength of Japanese society. With defence a collective responsibility, consultation was central to facing the challenge. An illustration of this is a long and frank correspondence by both Abe and his successor Hotta from 1855 as prime minister with the powerful daimyo of Mito and of Satsuma. These two men were all the more important because by precedent, unlike fudai, the daimyo of both han as members of the sanke and tozama respectively were excluded from government office. Satsuma, the han best informed on encroachments from the south, represented the maritime aspect; Mito, preoccupied by the need to strengthen the Japanese presence in Ezo, argued for far—reaching reorganisation on land. Both han offered a contrast with Choshu, no less forthright in the 1850s in preparing for the future contest with foreigners, but lacking the close personal ties with the Edo shogunate which the daimyo of Satsuma and Mito enjoyed. Choshu scarcely figured in correspondence, a circumstance which marked the gulf between Choshu and the shogunate and which was to widen alarmingly from 1858.

Narioki's successor from 1851 as daimyo of Satsuma, Nariakira (1809–58), already experienced in han policy, regarded defence as his main priority and pursued a vigorous policy of putting his heavily taxed han in military readiness. His correspondence with the rōjū was a lynchpin

____________________
1
Maruyama, Intellectual history of Tokugawa Japan, p.364.

-175-

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